Sunday, October 16, 2016

'The Accountant' Can't Quite Balance Its Books

In recent years, understanding of the autism spectrum has expanded as rate of diagnosis has approached an epidemic proportion. It is difficult, though, to imagine that parents would take comfort being told that while their child might never relate enough to others to have close friends or a spouse, a career as a mercenary beancounter might be a possibility.

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an accountant of many talents. If the IRS is on your back, he can itemize your deductions in such a way that you may never pay taxes again. And if you’re a Mexican drug lord with few million missing from the till, he’ll uncook your books and tell you who in your inner circle needs to be relocated to a drum of sulfuric acid. His combination of absolute precision and utter discretion makes him a favorite of big money criminals around the globe. What lies beyond Christian’s reach is casual eye contact, small talk, and normal social interaction in general. Christian has Aspergers Syndrome, but he makes it work.

Christian takes a quiet gig for a robotics firm with a nebbish owner (John Lithgow), a comely employee (Anna Kendrick), and a million-dollar hole in its books. And what is supposed to be a break from dealing with thieves and killers quickly becomes anything but. Christian finds himself on the run from an army of mercenaries lead by a slick assassin (Jon Bernthal), as well as a grizzled Department of Treasury boss (J.K. Simmons) and his sharp sidekick (Cynthia Addai-Robinson).

Whether you will enjoy The Accountant depends on what you expect to see. If you go in looking for an action-thriller, there are elements of that. If you are looking for a portrait of a developmentally challenged and psychologically tortured man trying to connect to the world around him, there is some of that, too. And either director Gavin Hood (Warrior, Jane Got a Gun) and screenwriter Bill Dubuque (The Judge) couldn’t decide which story to tell or decided to mix both and hope for the best. If the latter, the result is awkward at best.

Watching Christian navigate the world around him with sympathetic awkwardness is a bit like the puzzles of which he is so fond. We don’t quite understand why he does certain things, like blast death metal music at himself with a strobe light flashing for twenty minutes each night, and the lack of at least a clinical explanation makes such details distracting when they are clearly designed to add dimension to the character.

The plot is at times almost incidental, with Simmons filling in plot holes with dialogue and jumpy flashbacks, which actually create more questions than they answer. It maybe would have worked a little better if more time was spent on Christian’s awkward interactions with people and what it means to live with this condition. Or they could have at least assembled a smoother narrative.

In any event, The Accountant is a bare-bones action thriller that makes an effort at being a character study of an unorthodox hero.